A film buff’s filmmaker

Astonishing Act: Christoph Waltz makes the most delicious debut of the decade

Astonishing Act: Christoph Waltz makes the most delicious debut of the decade  


“Inglorious Basterds” is Tarantino’s homage to all those unmemorable Westerns from the 1970s.

The summaries and stills for Tarantino’s just-released “Inglorious Basterds” will tell you that this is a revisionist revenge fantasy about a renegade squad of American Jewish soldiers who massacre Nazis. Luckily, that’s not the movie.

If it was, it would be both boring and obnoxious. Like all of QT’s films, there are many set pieces, characters, actors, dialogues and parallel plots drenched in film references that overwhelm and win you over.

Homage to Westerns

This is Tarantino’s homage to all those unmemorable Westerns from the 1970s that many of us grew up on in India. What resonates here, just as much as the movie references, is the soundtrack made up of movie themes from the minor spaghetti Westerns (as opposed to major Sergio Leone productions like The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly) scored by the Picasso of film music, Ennio Morricone.

“The power of cinema is going to bring down the Third Reich!” is how QT sums up Inglorious Basterds. And he means this literally, and I won’t spoil anything for you by explaining what he meant except to say that inflammable nitrate film becomes a secret weapon against the Nazis!

As revenge fantasies go (the Jews massacre Nazis and Hitler and the Third Reich get what is coming to them) this one is long overdue. As Indians we can understand why such a fantasy is fulfilling: we would relish a movie where the East India Company is put in its place and booted out of India two centuries earlier than when they actually were.

(A truly audacious and just revisionist fantasy for Americans will be to have a movie where White settlers (‘palefaces’) in North America are scalped by Native Americans and deported back to England. There’s a revisionist Western for you).

Above all, the reason to run to theatres to see Inglorious… is Christoph Waltz who plays Colonel Hans Landa, aka the Jew Hunter. From the first frame he appears in, Waltz owns the movie. And without exaggeration he makes the most delicious debut of the decade. (This astonishing middle-aged actor discovered by Tarantino makes you wonder how cinema had got along without him for so long).

The character of Landa is that sophisticated, glamorous Nazi we meet from time to time in the movies, but Tarantino also shades him with so many complex sides, that he isn’t like any villain we’ve met before. He’s interested in everything: people, art, languages, cinema, food, conversation. He’s frighteningly polite, and a genial sadist. He is proud of his skills as an amateur detective. He’s patriotic but also opportunistic.

I shudder to think how hollow and underwhelming this WW2 Western would have been without this gifted actor. Why, QT himself shudders to think what Inglorious… would have been without Christoph Waltz, and has said so in several interviews: that he would not have made the movie if he had not found his perfect Hans Landa.

The right man

Apparently, the movie was on the floors and QT, not having found the actor to play what he thinks is his best written character, told producer Harvey Weinstein that he was pulling the plug from the project. Then he saw Christoph audition and knew this was the actor he had been waiting for these many years. (He began this script even before Kill Bill).

What can I say about Christoph Waltz? We speak often of actors or character parts that are lip-smackingly good, but really that description was invented for this Austrian actor.

Landa has to speak several languages fluently in the film (French, German, English, Italian and even Americanese) and that’s Waltz for you. An actor who can speak all these languages like a native, effortlessly switching from one to the other.

Born and raised in Vienna and Zurich, he studied acting in London and New York. After a 20-year wait looking for roles to play in theatre and cinema, he settled for acting steadily in German television.

Inglorious… has changed all that for him, of course. Already at Cannes he won the Best Actor for 2009, and there isn’t any doubt he’ll win all the big prizes, from BAFTA to a Golden Globe to the Oscar. He’s had several film offers. And the funniest thing has happened: film buffs are shooting off e-mails to QT and to film magazines pleading that Hollywood not destroy Christoph by casting him as a villain in “Die Hard 5” or sequels of that kind. “Please don’t turn him into a stock Euro-villain,” is the plea of fans.

What most critics don’t understand when they carp about Tarantino’s recent movies, starting with Kill Bill (both volumes), Death Proof and Inglorious… is that these are Tarantino’s most personal films. Movies for movie buffs filled with references to his favourite genre movies strewn encyclopaedically frame to frame. When Truffaut pays tribute to Hitchcock, it’s called homage, when Tarantino pays homage to B movies; it’s seen as showing-off. Instead of being sassy and clever as in Reservoir Dogs, and Jackie Brown, his newer films are full of love — movie-love. There’s the director’s director, and the critic’s director and then there is Tarantino the film buff’s filmmaker.

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Printable version | Dec 9, 2019 10:20:01 PM |

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